We interrupt the basketball countdown to bring you some football coverage! Tomorrow, the Hoos welcome the No. 5 Louisville Cardinals to Charlottesville. In order to better understand the super-talented and super-scary Cardinals, we reached out to our friend Mike Rutherford over at Card Chronicle (@CardChronicle).
STL: So, you guys are pretty good at the football. How do you see your chances for the College Football Playoffs? What would you guys need in terms of help in order to get to the top four?
MR: Yeah, that's definitely the daily topic of interest up here. I think we'll have a much better idea of where Louisville stands and what the Cardinals need to happen after the first College Football Playoff Rankings come out next Tuesday.
The general consensus up here is that Louisville needs to win out and do so convincingly (thanks for nothing, Houston), and then still needs a lot of help from the front-runners in the other Power 5 conferences. The playoff has never taken a non-conference champion, so assuming Clemson wins the Atlantic Division, U of L is going to have to appear definitively better than two of the other four league champs to sneak in.
The teams that Cardinal fans are watching the most closely right now are Washington, West Virginia and Baylor. If any of those teams finishes undefeated, they almost certainly will have the drop on Louisville in December. Getting an extra loss on Ohio State or a slip-up on Michigan wouldn't hurt either.
The one thing Louisville does have going for it is the most exciting player in college football and an offense that scores more points than any other in the country. How much the committee factors in extenuating factors like that is anyone's guess (they say they don't. but whatever). At this point, all Louisville can do is hope to keep steamrolling opponents and then catch some breaks from the chaos that always disrupts the final month of the college football season.
STL: Lamar Jackson we all know about. Who else's name on the offense will we hear called a lot on Saturday? Could you do us a solid and not bring Lamar? I'm pretty sure he could use a breather.
MR: Lamar is cool, he is awesome at football, and to my knowledge he will be in Charlottesville this weekend.
Louisville has a host of non-Lamar weapons on offense and they have spread the ball around a ton this season. Brandon Radcliff and Jeremy Smith have both been terrific at running back and both are likely to see their fair share of touches on Saturday.
Two other guys I'll highlight are wide receiver James Quick and tight end Cole Hikutini. Virginia has been susceptible to giving up the deep pass this season, and no team in the country likes to take shots downfield more than Louisville. That being the case, Quick will likely be the target for a couple of bomb attempts early in the game. If UVA overcompensates and leaves the middle open, then Hikutini can really destroy them there. He's one of the better tight ends in the country, and has been flying up NFL Draft big boards these last couple of weeks.
STL: Defensively, you guys allow over 300 yards per game. What does Kurt Benkert and the UVa. offense need to do to get the chains moving?
MR: With Bronco Mendenhall saying earlier this week that he'd like to slow things down the same way Duke did against Louisville a couple of weeks ago, the best thing the Virginia offense can do is convert on 3rd downs. Not only does that milk at least another couple of minutes off the clock, but it keeps the Cardinal offense off the field and limits their total number of snaps.
Duke didn't exactly light up U of L with its offensive game plan, but they were 8 of 16 on 3rd down, which frustrated the Cards and allowed the Blue Devils to stay in the game despite having their total yardage almost doubled up by their opponents. Louisville has actually been pretty good on 3rd downs outside of that one game, but for the Cavaliers to have a chance to win they're going to need a handful of lengthy drives that milk as much clock as possible.
STL: If you had to go as one ACC football head coach (not Petrino) for Halloween, who would you choose, and why?
MR: Has to be Dabo, right? I feel like he's the easiest to replicate and would be the most recognizable in Louisville. Because you never want to be the person who has to explain their Halloween costume to everyone.
Runner-up is Addazio, just because it's the last year you'll be able to do it.
STL: Louisville was picked to finish fourth in the ACC in basketball this season. What are your expectations for the team, and what seed do you see them getting in the NCAA tournament?
MR: I don't think there's ever been a Louisville basketball team that has received less attention from its fan base in late October than this one, which is crazy because this is a top 15 with legitimate Final Four aspirations. It just speaks to how far the football program has come and how exciting this particular team is. Having a Heisman Trophy front-runner at quarterback also helps.
Louisville fans are expecting a lot from this basketball team, especially since the sting and disappointment of having to miss out on last year's NCAA Tournament is still so fresh. The Cards have a brutal schedule, but so long as all its key pieces stay healthy, I think this should be a top five team in the ACC and a top four or five seed in the big dance.
STL: You wrote a great preview of Virginia basketball...who do you see having a breakout season for the Hoos?
MR: If we're talking "breakout" season then I guess the only guys who are off limits are London Perrantes and Austin Nichols, since they're both known commodities. I haven't seen any highlights from the scrimmages that have made UVA fans so excited, but I'll still take Isaiah Wilkins. He's been solid in a supporting role for two seasons and would seem to be the guy who would benefit the most from Malcolm Brogdon's departure.
I also love Kyle Guy, but it's so hard to be a star as a freshman in a system like Tony Bennett's. Still, I think his outside stroke will demand more minutes than he might have seen otherwise.
STL: Prediction for the football game. How does this one play out?
MR: The last time Louisville was favored by this much they wound up being life and death to beat Duke. Then everyone was terrified of a close game against NC State and it was 44-0 at halftime.
I think the Cardinals learned their lesson from the Duke game, and won't go through the motions against any team left on their schedule. Even though I picked the Cavaliers to pull the upset before the start of the year (I swear) I'll say Louisville 48, Virginia 17.
I still think Bronco Mendenhall was a great hire, though, and this series will be really fun in a couple years.
Thanks again to Mike and Card Chronicle for chatting! Kickoff is at noon, and the game will be televised on ABC/ESPN2.